When I garden, I find myself gardening for the enjoyment of others as well as for myself. I think it’s something we all do — no matter if your garden is a collection of pots on a terrace or a sidewalk-hugging border or acres of formal beds, our gardens are an opportunity for someone walking by or stopped at a red light to take a moment to breathe.
Fortunately, for all of us, Edward W. Bok (1863-1930) had the same idea about gardening. On a recent road trip, Joe and I had the chance to visit his garden, an enduring token of the opportunities he had been given in this country.
Bok arrived in the United States as a young boy from the Netherlands with his grandmother’s wisdom in his heart: “Make the world a bit better or more beautiful because you have lived in it.”
In time, in his new land, Bok grew to become a publisher, a Pulitzer Prize winning author, peace advocate, and the editor-in-chief of Ladies Home Journal, and he’s often credited with coining the phrase “living room.”
While wintering with his wife in Lake Wales, FL, — between Tampa and Orlando — Bok became enchanted with nearby Iron Mountain, which, at 298 feet, is one of the highest points in Florida. In 1921, he decided to preserve the hilltop as a bird sanctuary.
He commissioned Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., — the son of the man who landscaped New York City’s Central Park — to turn the sandy outcrop into a lush subtropical paradise. Trenches were dug, water pipes were placed, and load after load of rich, black topsoil arrived. Palms, live oaks, azaleas, magnolias are just a few of the plants that today provide food and refuge for 126 species of birds.
The centerpiece of the garden is the 205 ft. Singing Tower, which houses a 60-bell carillon. As visitors stroll the paths or contemplate while sitting on a well-placed bench, the Singing Tower serenades the entire garden with its rich musical tones.
On February 1, 1929, the gardens were officially dedicated by President Calvin Coolidge.
Bok Tower Gardens is a definite must-see if you ever find yourself in this part of Florida. Meditative. Contemplative. Inspirational.
If you do go, I recommend going in a cooler season or in the morning hours. A sunny September afternoon was too hot — but we stayed on the shady paths and were rewarded with a fantastic breeze at the overlook near the tower.
I hope you enjoyed this little trip. More field trips to come . . .
Note: I embedded two videos, courtesy of YouTube. I’m able to watch them on my phone, but not on my laptop. Not sure what that means, but they may be of interest.